Tom Cable, joking about Russell Okung interrupting a post-OTA-practice interview on Tuesday in the video above, isn't more than the Seahawks' offensive line coach this spring. He's become the team's chief mixologist.
Cable's been using more centers than a hockey team does. That's been since Seattle sent two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans in March in the trade that added star tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks' recently meager passing game.
Lemuel Jeanpierre, Unger's backup for most of the last five seasons, has been the first-string center for the majority of the team's nine organized team activities over the last three weeks. Patrick Lewis has usually been the second center; Cable likes the 2014 waiver pickup from Green Bay Cable so much he elevated him over Jeanpierre to start games when Unger was hurt last season. But Tuesday during this last week of OTAs, Cable had 2014 practice-squad guard Drew Nowak as the first-team center throughout practice.
And there's Cable's ongoing experiment of converting rookie sixth-round draft choice Kristjan Sokoli to center. Sokoli was a defensive tackle at the University of Buffalo six months ago.
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Seattle drafted two more offensive linemen, San Diego State left tackle Terry Poole and West Virginia right guard Mark Glowinski, in the fourth round last month. Cable says they can both play center, too.
That's potentially a half-dozen candidates to start at the communications hub of the offensive line when the games get real beginning Sept. 13 at St. Louis.
"Yeah, I think it's probably the most competition," Cable said. "Drew's doing a nice job. Sokoli's doing a nice job. Lem and Patrick are competing their rear ends off. So when we get to camp, it should be quite a battle.
"That certainly has the most uncertainty."
It definitely is the key to the line and thus much of the offense in 2015. Sure, the Seahawks have Graham and Marshawn Lynch and Wilson. But who's going to block for them? Cable also needs to find a new left guard to replace James Carpenter, who signed with the New York Jets in March. Alvin Bailey has lost 20 pounds in his bid to win that job over Poole.
We've talked plenty -- too much? -- here about the offensive line's troubles the past two seasons. How Russell Wilson often has made brilliant, game-changing plays while improvising while his blockers have failed to provide him consistent protection. Yet Unger was the epitome of a "glue guy," the poised, studied veteran who kept Seattle's line synchronized. He had a unique relationship and understanding with his quarterback. For as much as he was injured -- Unger missed 10 games last season and three the year before -- he made the offense far better and smoother when he was in there. That was especially true in zone run blocking for Lynch. Unger usually nailed his pre-snap calls; when he was hurt last year Wilson had to take on that blocking-audible responsibility. When that happened the entire offense suffered.
Now Unger is a Saint. And Cable is still praising him for being a quality person first while a Seahawk for six years.
“Well, you always try to make your team better. I think that’s what we have done such a fantastic job of and great trust in John (Schneider, the general manager) and (coach) Pete (Carroll)," Cable said. "When they bring these discussions up, there’s always a good purpose for it. Knowing where we’re headed and the youth and maybe what was available to us in the draft, it was the right thing to do.
"We lost a really good man and a really good player. But that’s football.”
Now the top priority for training camp will be to find his replacement -- one that not only can block but can provide some semblance of the knowledge, chemistry and poise Unger provided. It's a tall task. And I'm not talking about Sokoli being 6 feet 5.
It's obvious listening to Cable for the last month and throughout last season he really likes Jeanpierre's experience, Lewis' strength, Sokoli's athleticism, Poole's size and versatility and Glowinski's speed. Nowak remains an unknown, because he wasn't even on the active roster after Seattle signed him as a free agent last season. He's 6-3, 292 pounds, a fourth-year veteran from Western Michigan (who happens to be from GM Schneider's home area of Green Bay, Wisconsin, by the way).
Tuesday during OTA practice No. 8 Nowak and Wilson messed up a snap during a scrimmage with the offense backed up on its own 1-yard line. The result was a fumble in the end zone. There were also four false starts in that part of the practice, prompting veteran wide receiver Doug Baldwin to berate his teammates to get it together.
Jeanpierre's experience -- starting parts of multiple seasons while Unger was hurt plus his familiarity with Wilson and with Cable's blocking system -- seems to give him the edge heading into next week's mandatory minicamp and training camp that begins at the end of July. Seattle re-signed him this spring as a free agent with the idea he could be Unger's replacement. But it was the shorter, more powerful Lewis whom Cable picked over Jeanpierre last November and December to fill-in for Unger. And that was when the Seahawks absolutely had to win to overtake fading Arizona to win the NFC West and secure home-field advantage in the postseason again. If Cable picked Lewis then, he may again.
As for the other candidates: When I asked Carroll in April if a rookie could come in and run Seattle's offensive system and line, the head man acknowledged that would be difficult. But he didn't rule it out.
However it shakes out, Cable thinks it will happen sooner into August than later.
"I would say sometime in the preseason," the line coach said.
"If you’re saying that in terms of camp, yes. When? Who knows? I think it’s going to show up pretty quickly though.”
Here's more, not all, of what Cable said:
Tom Cable – Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line
June 9, 2015
(On what he’s found out about his rookie O-linemen) “Pretty smart, excellent movers, like we thought. Physically, we probably won’t know until we get them padded up, but really picking it up quickly, and I think really probably ahead of schedule a little bit.”
(On if measurements of the guys and guys being ‘movers’ has become more of a focus) “Well I just think we’re trying to get better and better athletically, and as we do that, you want to still find those aggressive, kind of violent athletes too. So what’s showed up is all those measurements we talked about earlier.”
(On if that’s a reflection of where the game is going) “I hope not. I just would like to get ahead of it – be a little more athletic and still as tenacious and kind of strong-willed and tough-minded like we’ve been.”
(On the center position) “Yeah, I think it’s probably got the most competition to it. Drew [Nowak] is doing a good job, [Kristjan] Sokoli’s doing a nice job, and Lem [Jeanpierre] and Patrick [Lewis] are competing their rear ends off, so when we get to camp, it should be quite a battle. But that certainly has the most uncertainty.”
(On Alvin Bailey) “I think he’s much more mature. I think his grasp of what we’re doing has shown up at a much higher level, which is his confidence, obviously. And he’s in great shape which is really, really good to see.”
(On if they lose anything by not having two of the three minicamp practices next week) “I think any time you don’t get to practice, you probably lose something. But you all see how we work and we get a lot more done than most.”
(On Russell Wilson’s improvement and where he’s improved the most and where he could still grow) “Well I think obviously his level of confidence in what we’re doing in the system and all that – I think his command is coming in pretty strong. But like everybody, he can still find areas to get better, and that’s how he works within the pocket because he is a mover, and then the protection helping to take care of him and that sort of thing. So to me, that’s kind of an ongoing deal all the time.”